Peterson, Hardy, McDonald cases underscore importance of clear league policies, practices

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“Due process” has different meaning in different contexts.  In a criminal court of law, due process protects a citizen from unjustified incarceration.  That concept doesn’t protect citizens from discipline in the workplace.

For most American employers, an employee who finds trouble away from work doesn’t create an internal issue.  If it’s off the clock and off the premises, it’s not the employer’s business.

For the NFL, a decision was made years ago that failure to police the private lives of players could be bad for business.  Recently, the league has learned that not properly policing the private lives of players could be even worse.

That’s the real problem the NFL now faces.  Sure, the league stands against crimes ranging from domestic violence to smoking marijuana in the privacy of their own domiciles.  But the recent cases of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, and 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald expose a major flaw in the NFL’s handling of players accused but not yet legally responsible for off-field wrongdoing.

Waiting for “due process” in court used to be good enough.  In the NFL after the Ray Rice video, it’s not — especially where the allegations involve any kind of domestic violence or abuse.

It’s not enough for the teams to be entrusted to handle these situations, as Texans owner Bob McNair argued earlier today on CNBC’s Squawk Box, via SportsBusiness Daily.  Teams have incentives and temptations that can result in bizarre and inconsistent decisions, with key players getting the benefit of “due process” and the guys at the bottom of the roster getting chased out the door.

The post-Rice NFL needs adjust to the new reality proactively.  The post-Rice NFL needs to immediately mobilize a team of investigators after a player is arrested, charged, or indicted, especially in cases of domestic abuse.  The post-Rice NFL needs to make its own decision as to whether the player is guilty or innocent.  The post-Rice NFL needs to let the world know what it has found, and to impose fair and consistent discipline.

Could that potentially influence jurors or otherwise undermine the efforts of the legal system?  Yes.  But The Shield can no longer hide behind the shield of “due process.”  And the challenge for the NFL will be to come up with a fair and consistent way to ensure that an appropriate system is crafted for investigating allegations against players.

The other alternative would be to act like most other American employers whose employees get in trouble away from work, and not care.  Sure, the NFL would be criticized for not controlling its players.  But if the NFL is going to handle these cases in a way that invites criticism anyway, it would be a lot cheaper and easier to be criticized for taking the position that anything that happens away from the place of employment isn’t the employer’s problem, unless and until the player isn’t able to play because he’s not able to be at the stadium, what with the steel bars impeding his ability to get to his car.

25 responses to “Peterson, Hardy, McDonald cases underscore importance of clear league policies, practices

  1. It’s not fair for the teams to have to figure out this discipline. In all of these players cases, it has cost the team millions in salary/cap hits, star players decrease the chance for winning, etc. Punishing them runs contrary to the stated mission of each & every team.

    Really the only benefit for the team is to not take the PR hit in playing someone with criminal charges hanging over their heads.

    This is why the NFL needs a strong leader, and not the gutless coward currently in charge. The longer the ginger hammer stays the worse off everyone will be.

    Goodell – respect “the shield”, respect the league that made you a multi-millionare, and just resign. Don’t make them fire you, just walk away

  2. Good piece Mike.

    The problem is, how long do you think due process should take?

    We live in an instant gratification society. There isn’t even a news “cycle” anymore. It’s a 24 hour landscape.

    If the court of public opinion can’t wait for a team of investigators to review a case how could that work?

    It’s a very complex issue.

  3. Mr. Florio you are correct. The NFL is not a part of the judicial system and should remove itself as a part of the punishment phase of it.

    It may however, “be hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

  4. “it would be a lot cheaper and easier to be criticized for taking the position that anything that happens away from the place of employment isn’t the employer’s problem”

    Except when you realize that, whether they want it or not, these players are considered icons & heros, which means your children are learning from their example, even if you don’t want that to be true.

  5. I can’t say I support the NFL employing a private police force that makes decisions on these kid’s lives without the power of subpoena. It would influence the outcome of their court cases, because if the NFL has already decided they are guilty without having to follow the constitution, then lawyers will point to the results of these knee jerk investigations in the court rooms. However, I can get behind a cohesive policy that looked something like this:

    Accustation but no arrest: 1-2 game suspension with pay while the NFL awaits the police to make the decision to arrest. Player would still be able to have team access to medical, mental health or legal resources.

    Arrest: Suspension without pay while the court case is resolved. If the courts determine that the player is not guilty or allows a plea that avoids a conviction (like Ray Rice’s), when the NFL reinstates the player they return the back pay. Player would have access to medical or mental health resources, but would not have access to legal aid.

    Conviction: Automatic suspension without pay for a duration determined by the level of crime they commited. Misdemeanors would be shorter suspensions than Felonies, and if the crime is violent all punishments are doubled. No contact with the team would be permitted.

    That of course is for first time offenders. Second convictions would result in a automatic year long suspension to be served once the player has completed any community service or jailtime. Third offense is automatic banning from the league.

  6. Perhaps the NFL’s stance should be to suspend every player arrested for any reason for the game following the arrest, no exceptions. Give it the lame excuse “to allow the player to tend to legal/personal issues.” Then, after the judicial system has done its thing, after a couple of years (Marshawn Lynch) deal with any additional unishment based solely on the judicial systems findings and punishment.

  7. Mr. Florio, you are incorrect. The constant, self righteous pontificating by the American media is irritating, to say the least. The only thing the NFL needs to do is keep NFL fans interested. I would like to see proof that not suspending Rice, Hardy or MacDonald had any impact on fan interest. Yeah, you are correct on what should be done, but it’s a reach, at best, to say it needs to happen.

    What the NFL does need to do is just be consistent. I think that’s the real problem REAL NFL fans have right now. If they cut/suspend a practice squad schmuck for something, guys like AP should face the same discipline. If a poll were conducted I would bet a year’s salary, just a shade undr the poverty line, that the real issue with fans is that there is no consistency. The NFL and Goodell have no obligation to speak on any of these topics but they do have an obligation to come up with a fair, consistent punishment system. The crime here is that the media just wants a head to roll. They don’t want the problem solved.

  8. Players are public figures. Like it or not, the “private” lives of public figures is the employer’s problem.

    In many companies, a DWI is only a problem when the individual cannot show up for work. In the NFL that’s not the case.

  9. They aren’t killing the golden goose, they have killed it. It just seems like no one has noticed yet.

    This issue has absolutely nothing to do with football and that’s how the league got into this mess in the first place. When your focus is on maximising revenues, it becomes very easy to forget what your core business is.

    The tenure of Roger Goodell, more so than any of his predecessors, has shifted away from protecting and honouring a legacy to exploiting a product.

    The only good news is, as football tumbles off of its perch on the summit it currently sits, it will be returned to the hardcore fans who care about the game.

  10. The NFL should create a system which makes it easier for teams to preemptively discipline their own players.

    First, a team should be allowed to make personal conduct suspensions in the wake of criminal allegations, if they deem the allegations merited. The suspensions would be with pay, but any game suspended by the team in this manner would count towards any punishment the league later hands out. When the league imposes without-pay discipline later on, that money would be forfeit as usual, but the player and team would not be penalized twice for doing the right thing. Example: Aldon Smith gets nine games, on top of the time he spent sitting out last year to go to rehab. That time should have counted towards the league’s penalty.

    Second, players under arrest (maybe only for felonies) should be able to be released by a team without accruing a future cap hit for their signing bonus. If a team wants to cut ties with an Aaron Hernandez or Ray Rice, they shouldn’t have to factor in whether cap penalties will impact their rosters.

    Put these two things together and it becomes much easier for teams to take immediate action while the legal system, and the league, give a more thorough analysis of the facts before handing out official punishment.

  11. I cant for the life of me Fathom how Goodell was ever a Lawyer. This man changes his mind more than my wife does. I distinctly remember him suspending Ben Roethlisberger, and his statment was

    ” Roethlisberger’s actions warranted a suspension, due to “conduct detrimental to the league.”

    Yet now for some reason he’s hemming and hawing over what to do with Peterson, Hardy, and Rice? Why not use the same standards, and say their conduct vilotated the personal conduct clause, and simply suspend them like he did Roethlisberger?

    Goodell should not be in charge of the disciplining of the players. I believe Goodells power in this area, was the sole reason the Steelers didnt sign the CBA. They believed Goodell had way too much power in that area. Goodell built his reputation being Mr. Discipline, and now its come back to bite him in the you know what, because hes showed zero consistency.

  12. The NFL needs it’s own investigative squad and a court marshal system? Do you even read what you’ve typed before posting or is it all just stream of conscious?

    How do the investigators do a thorough job without subpoena power? Oh wait, you probably believe that they can just “get the evidence” using whatever it takes right? You were a lawyer yes?

    I’m with steelerben’s ideas. Suspend with pay until due process has occurred. That solves the PR problem as well as giving players (and their lawyers) incentive to get the legal matters handled instead of pushing them out until the offseason.

  13. Ray Rice plead Not Guilty, had to go to an “Anger Management” class and in a year if no arrests his police record will be clean as a whistle so the legal systems “Due Process” clears him.

  14. I support the other alternative: let the courts decide crime and punishment while the league worries about the product on the field. Have a blanket policy of not responding to public pressure to suspend anyone for off-field issues.

    Feeding the lynch mob mentality of social media will just encourage and empower the people that are actively working to ruin the game.

  15. Any player that is arrested or charged with any violent crime should be suspended with pay while the charges are pending. Any player that is accused of a violent crime should be allowed to play while an investigation is conducted to determine whether there is substantial evidence to support a charge. If the player fails to fully participate in such an investigation, he should be suspended until a decision is made whether to charge him. These suspensions should be “administrative” rather than punishment. After the legal proceedings are completed, a punishment should be determined and any games missed due to the administrative suspension should be credited against the punishment.

    Finally, Roger Goodell has lost all credibility when it comes to player punishment. A panel of 3-5 people, including at least one former player, should determine all punishments.

    It really is not that difficult.

  16. When did we start expecting private business to replace our criminal justice system? If we feel the punishment for a convicted criminal who abuses his wife or girlfriend is not enough, perhaps the law should be changed to include stiffer penalties.

    What happened with Ray Rice is this. Ray Rice beats up his wife. Media responds. NFL decides to suspend Ray Rice indefinitely. Ray Rice cannot support wife financially. Ray Rice cannot support child financially. NFL punished not only Ray Rice, but punished the family as well.

    This is lame justice. If I ever live in a society where the media determines guilt, innocence, and punishment, then this will be a society I choose to leave.

  17. Due process is one thing, conduct unbecoming is another. Fans crying for McDonald should look at the past players not accused or arrested but accusations alone have gotten big suspensions.

  18. Nice and clear policies. You know, because every situation is the exact same thing and fits neatly under exactly one statute. I don’t even know why we need juries in this country!

  19. I’m not a fan of policy that would be applied to players that could be innocent. It should be a case by case basis based on the evidence. In the Rice and Peterson cases, the evidence is there, no question.

    Football players are high profile targets, somebody crying wolf is not enough when it is possible that somebody could just be looking for a cash settlement.

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